Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published December 13, 2012 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Roseate Spoonbills, Ibis, etc

The showy Roseate Spoonbills stand out in this feeding frenzy, but also there were White Ibis, Wood Storks and several egrets.

Feeding Frenzy

Sharks are famous for frantic feeding frenzies. But sometimes birds can engage in the same kind of group gorging orgies. Jewel and I recently witnessed one such spectacular birding extravaganza at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) when hundreds of wading birds gathered in three small pools, and the adjoining meadow, and ravenously worked the pools and surrounding area for well over 45 minutes, providing us with a memorable experience and some outstanding photographic opportunities.

The birds were predominantly White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks, with several Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and a smattering of Glossy Ibis mixed in. We also saw at least one Tri-colored Heron and a Cattle Egret during the feeding event, but both birds managed to elude my camera. Boat-tailed Grackles serenaded us during the show.

The three small pools were right beside the road at the beginning of Blackpoint Drive, and the birds came as close as 20 feet from our car, undisturbed by the hidden humans, hiding behind the car windows and clicking away with their cameras. Several more birders in vehicles behind us also enjoyed the fantastic spectacle of bird activity from their cars as well.

The entire scene may well have continued for some time and might have been enjoyed by many more birders, except for the arrival of two Clueless Idiots, who pulled up in their car and immediately got out, one with a telescope (completely unnecessary) and one with a small hand-held camera (no tripod) and flushed all the birds. Thus, the two Clueless Idiots violated the first cardinal, red letter rule of birding: Never disturb or flush the bird or birds; if the birds are in close proximity, STAY IN YOUR CAR!

By violating this rule the Clueless Idiots accomplished three things: 1. They flushed the birds, disturbing and ending the feeding activity the birds were obviously enjoying and enthusiastically engaging in; 2. They ended the outstanding viewing opportunity that we, and all the other birders who joined us, or might have continued to join us, and observed the Don’t Flush The Birds rule, were privileged to witness and share; and 3. They, themselves, did not get to see the very sight and activity they got out of their car with their unnecessary telescope and hand-held camera in apparent hopes of somehow seeing it better.

We left in disgust, rather than witness the lynching that the birders behind us may have imposed on the perpetrators. In retrospect, we may have missed a teaching opportunity, but it might not have been a cool and calm lesson in our then state of mind. Yeah, probably better that we left. 12/13/2012

It was fascinating to study the different feeding styles of the different species. The White Ibis stayed in the shallower water or in the mud and probed by picking and poking their bills in search of food. The Roseate Spoonbills, with their wide sieve bills, swished their heads back and forth in the water as they walked along, to filter out the organisms that constitute their diet. The Wood Storks worked the deeper water probing with their entire heads often under the water as they dug in the bottom of the pools for their food. Finally, the Egrets, Great and Snowy, waited and attempted to spear small fish from time to time as the other birds pushed the fish around the pools. All of these feeding styles are apparent in the video accompanying this article.

Listen to the sounds in the video as the birds feed. Toward the end of the video you can hear the swoosh of the flight of the birds as they flush from the first pool as the Clueless Idiots exit their car. Also, the video shows all the birds in the third pool moving toward the far end of the pool, away from the approaching Clueless Idiots as they invade the birds “comfort zone.” I looked up from my camera at this point to realize what was happening, which accounts for why I missed the shot of all the birds taking off in a big white cloud of flying feathers. Disturbing as it was, I must admit the fleeing flight of the birds was spectacular. Maybe the Clueless Idiots got that shot. (12/13/12)

The video can also be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQr7n6Hh_QU&feature=plcp.

Feeding Frenzy

(Click photos for larger versions)